EU to take ac­tion against Poland over court re­form

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Euro­pean Union said yes­ter­day it has launched le­gal ac­tion against Poland’s right-wing govern­ment over a new law it fears will un­der­mine the in­de­pen­dence of the coun­try’s com­mon courts. The ac­tion taken by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the EU ex­ec­u­tive, could lead to Poland be­ing hauled be­fore the 28-na­tion bloc’s high­est court, the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice, and even­tu­ally given a fine. The com­mis­sion is now com­ing down hard on War­saw to pre­vent what it says is not just an in­creas­ing threat to Poland’s demo­cratic stan­dards but those across the 28-na­tion bloc.

“The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion launched an in­fringe­ment pro­ce­dure against Poland by send­ing a let­ter of for­mal no­tice, fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion in the Pol­ish Of­fi­cial Jour­nal of the Law on the Or­di­nary Courts Or­gan­i­sa­tion on Fri­day 28 July,” the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion said in a state­ment. It said Poland’s gov­ern­ing Law and Jus­tice Party (PiS) had one month to re­spond to Com­mis­sion con­cerns, in­clud­ing that “the in­de­pen­dence of Pol­ish courts will be un­der­mined” by in­creased pow­ers for the jus­tice min­is­ter.

Other con­cerns, it said, in­clude “dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of gen­der due to the in­tro­duc­tion of a dif­fer­ent re­tire­ment age” for fe­male and male judges. The le­gal ac­tion had been ex­pected af­ter Pol­ish Pres­i­dent An­drzej Duda signed into law a mea­sure ear­lier in the week that al­lows the jus­tice min­is­ter to uni­lat­er­ally re­place the chief jus­tices of the com­mon courts.

How­ever, Duda sur­prised many in the govern­ment when he ve­toed a bill that would have re­in­forced po­lit­i­cal con­trol over the Supreme Court and an­other al­low­ing par­lia­ment to choose mem­bers of a body de­signed to pro­tect the in­de­pen­dence of the courts. The rul­ing Law and Jus­tice party nonethe­less vowed to push ahead with all the re­forms de­spite the ve­toes.

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion First Vice Pres­i­dent Frans Tim­mer­mans on Wed­nes­day warned of even more se­vere ac­tion if Supreme Court jus­tices are sacked. “If such a mea­sure is taken the com­mis­sion is ready to im­me­di­ately trig­ger the Ar­ti­cle 7 pro­ce­dure,” Tim­mer­mans said Wed­nes­day. Ar­ti­cle 7 is a never-be­fore-used EU process de­signed to up­hold the rule of law, a so-called “nu­clear op­tion” that can freeze a coun­try’s right to vote in meet­ings of EU min­is­ters.

The le­gal re­forms have trig­gered mass street protests in Poland and raised fears for the rule of law in one of the EU’s lead­ing eastern for­mer com­mu­nist states. Brus­sels and War­saw have been at log­ger­heads over the le­gal changes ever since the right-wing PiS took power in 2015 and an­nounced re­forms to Poland’s con­sti­tu­tional court. —AFP

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